College football recruiting is a contact sport, and several high-profile programs are seeking out contact early and often.
According to Kipp Adams and David Ching of ESPN.com, the Georgia Bulldogs have offered a scholarship to 15-year-old defensive lineman Brodarious Hamm of Spalding High School in Griffin, Ga.
Aside from already being a member of the class of 2016 All-Name team, the 6'3", 292-pounder—yes, that's correct, he's 6'3", 292 pounds at 15 years old—is expected to be one of the nation's top prospects.
Which begs the question, how young is too young?
Written offers can't be extended until Aug. 1 before a prospect's senior season, but college football recruiting has never been about paperwork. It's about relationships; and verbal commitments can, do and should go both ways.
Hamm is entering his sophomore year in high school, which means he isn't the youngest prospect in the world to receive a college offer.
Alabama and LSU have already offered eighth-grader and class of 2017 prospect Dylan Moses, according to Sporting News, and Lane Kiffin made waves at USC when he offered class of 2015 quarterback David Sills when he was in seventh grade, according to SI.com.
No, not at all.
In fact, it's good business.
As Andy Staples noteed in his SI.com story on Sills' offer in 2010, prospects aren't considered prospective student-athletes until high school, which means contact rules aren't applicable. That makes middle-schoolers fair game. If a college coach feels that a middle-schooler is good enough to help his program or will grow into a productive player in high school, why not make him an offer?
Just take a look at Moses' highlights. The 6'1", 215-pound running back/linebacker from Baton Rouge, La. runs a 4.46 40-yard dash and has a 34-inch vertical leap, according to NOLA.com. He could help LSU, Alabama or any other college football program right now.
Recruiting is all about building and fostering relationships, and that's why offering players early is important. Getting in on the ground floor with a prospect might not be what gets him to sign on the dotted line, but showing that commitment could help.
Coaches know that even if a prospect commits in middle school, he could flip down the road. As long as a prospect recognizes that the offer is subject to change, it's a non-issue. It lets the prospect know where he stands and what could be coming down the road.
If the prospect gets the fat-cat syndrome and stops working on his game, the marriage will fall apart. So be it. It's better for both parties if that happens before college.
Plus, the game may be changing.
The NCAA is making a concerted effort to deregulate its recruiting rules. The measures calling for unlimited contact and for off-the-field coaches to be able to recruit were suspended by the NCAA this offseason, but still could be implemented before some of these kids graduate from high school.
A coach who makes a positive first impression, before the prospect gets bombarded with calls, texts, letters and photo-shopped images from Florida assistants, will make it more likely that his program gets the benefit of the doubt down the road.
Should there be an age limit on verbal offers to prospects?
Verbal commitments are the college football version of giving your middle-school girlfriend a promise ring. It's as committed as you can be, but neither party actually thinks that marriage is set in stone down the road.
If the NCAA is moving toward deregulation, placing an age limit on verbal offers is a direct contradiction of that goal.
If you're good enough, you're good enough. Age is—and should be—a non-factor.
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